Somehow, in the middle of severing vamp necks in the dead of night in a run-down barn in Ohio, Dean had a revelation.
Or maybe revelation wasn’t the word for it; revelation implied that the idea came out of nowhere, suggested that the concepts and preconceived notions in your mind became rearranged until they slotted neatly into place with this sudden new thought. But that’s not what happened there.
What happened was a long time coming. Slowly, gently, waiting until Dean was ready for it before coalescing as a concrete thought in his mind.
Even while he was chattering inanely at Jenny (Jenny? Holy shit, that was a long time ago), stalling for time for Sammy to grab his machete, even while the two of them finished off the rest of the vamps, and even while they cleaned off their blades and disposed of the bodies, his mind was preoccupied.
And really, it should have been obvious – hell, it was obvious, but Dean had never bothered to entertain the thought before. Except that was also a lie; he’d entertained the thought plenty, he just pushed it down and buried it under alcohol and sarcasm and every other shitty coping mechanism he ever used.
It stayed in the little box in his heart that so much else stayed in, locked and chained and soldered shut and submerged in concrete. But someone had taken a silvery spike to the concrete, had used their incredible strength to rip apart the soldering and the chains, and had softly given him the key to the lock.
He watched as Sam helped the two boys into the back of the Impala, wrapping them in blankets and talking to them in soft tones. He felt a familiar feeling bubbling up, but instead of brushing it aside or burying it in snark, he decided to let it be for once.
Sam walked back up to him, machete held loosely in one hand.
“They’re still pretty shook up – obviously,” he said, with a little shake of his head and a quirk of his eyebrows. “I already called the sheriff’s office, they’re gonna take care of them overnight while their mom’s in the hospital. They’re, uh, gonna look into finding some family member they can stay with while she recovers.”
Dean hummed absently to let Sam know he was listening. It was good that all of that would be taken care of, and he was glad that the two boys survived and would have at least some family to go home to. His mind was still stuck in the loop that it had been all night. Sam, of course, knew him too well and noticed his somewhat dazed state immediately.
He slowly let his eyes refocus from where he’d been absently staring at a zipper on Sam’s jacket and caught a face full of Concerned Sam Expression.
“Yeah, I’m good,” he said, stretching his arms up over his head until his spine popped. “Let’s get these two back to civilization.”
He could wait to talk about it; not like he waited in the past, where he tamped it down under layers of self-loathing and the quieter but still ever-present voice of his father barking at him to not be a sissy. No, now he was only waiting to get these kids to someone else who can look after them and maybe a chance to get his jumbled thoughts in order before trying to talk about them.
He walked back over to the Impala and slid in behind the wheel, Sam following on the passenger side moments later. He craned his neck around to address the kids in the backseat, tell them they’d be alright and that they’d be going home soon. Instead, he found them fast asleep, piled up against each other. One of them had his fist clenched tightly on the other’s sleeve.
Dean felt a soft smile curl onto his face. He caught Sam’s eye as he turned back around and received a matching smile from him. He turned his attention back to the car, turning the ignition and hearing Baby’s engine rumbling to life below them like a lullaby.
I'm alone, yeah, I don't know if I can face the night
I'm in tears and the cryin' that I do is for you
I want your love
Let's break the walls between us
Don't make it tough
I'll put away my pride
I've suffered and I've seen the light
Dean threw his hand out and slapped around on the table top, blindly searching for his phone as his alarm blared. After a few more seconds of Steven Tyler’s vocals ringing out of the speakers he found it, jabbing his thumb at the screen to turn it off.
He rolled over onto his back and groaned, sore and still kind of tired. It had been a long night sorting things out at the police station, but the kids were off with their aunts and their mom was stable in the hospital. Dean’d take the achy muscles as a sign of a job well done.
He groaned again as he sat up and scrubbed his hands over his face and through his hair. He glanced over at the other bed through bleary eyes. It was empty, which meant Sam was probably out for his morning run.
Dean yawned deep and loud. He scratched at his chest and swung his legs over the side of the bed.
He puttered around the room for a while, slow and still half asleep. He mechanically folded his old clothes, mostly on autopilot as he packed up to get ready to leave town.
He had just finished grabbing his stuff from the bathroom when the motel room door creaked open and Sam spilled through, sweaty and out of breath from his run. Dean wrinkled his nose at him.
“Go take a shower, dude, you reek.”
Sam just laughed and chucked his gross, sweaty jacket at him, laughing even harder at Dean’s sputtering as the offending garment hit him in the face. Dean growled and took a swipe at him, but Sam danced out of the way, cackling like an asshole and slamming the bathroom door shut behind him.
“Jerk,” Sam yelled back, muffled through the door. Dean pulled the jacket off his head and threw it onto Sam’s bed with a grimace. Let him deal with his own shit.
Half an hour later, the Impala was roaring down the highway, Led Zeppelin blaring from her speakers, and windows rolled down to let the fresh spring air in. In a rare twist of fate, Sam was driving. Mostly because Dean was barely awake when they left, and only just starting to perk up now, as he was nursing his third cup of shitty take-out coffee on the passenger side.
He reached out and turned the music down. He heard a confused noise come from Sam – which, to be fair, he did just willingly turn down Zepp – but he didn’t turn to look at him. He took a deep breath.
Sam glanced at him from the corner of his eye. His brows furrowed, confused, or maybe concerned.
“What is it?”
“I’m proud of you.”
Sam snorted. “I know you hate giving me the keys, but I have driven a car before. You don’t have to be a dick about it every time.”
“What? Dude, no, I’m being serious.”
The same furrowed brows returned. “About what?”
“For fuck’s –” Dean cut himself off, dragging a hand over his face, left it lingering over his mouth as he turned to stare out the window. Somehow, his brother was both the most and least emotionally intuitive person in the universe. At the same time.
“I’m proud of you. For – for everything, really. How smart you are. How you always try to find the best solution to a problem, usually something so off-the-wall that no one else would ever think of it, and it almost always works. I’m proud of how much you love learning, how you always want to be better than you are, even though you’re already pretty much the best.
“I’m proud of how strong you are – how you never put up with anyone’s shit, least of all mine. How you always stood up to Dad. You know I wanted to do that? Every time you two’d fight, and every damn day we hunted together while you were at school, but I couldn’t do it. I was too worried about what he’d think of me. But you – you never let him push you around. I never knew how you did that.
“I’m proud of how good of a hunter you are, but even more than that, I’m proud of the leader you’ve become. The hunters from Apocalypse World, the new network you’ve worked on setting up… I think about it every day when we get a call from someone about a case, or looking for lore, that you’ve made this whole system almost single-handedly.
“But mostly? I’m proud of how kind and compassionate you are. How much shit we’ve seen, how much shit you’ve been through in particular, and you’re still so… so good. I wish I was half as good as you are.”
Dean exhaled roughly, his breath shaky. He hadn’t really meant to ramble on like that, but once he started talking he just kept going. But he was… okay? He figured he’d be freaking out right about now, fumbling to keep everything locked away and silent as he always had before, but he was actually pretty calm about it. Even though he’d been speaking around a lump in his throat for about half of that whole spiel.
The car drifted over onto the shoulder and slowly rolled to a stop. That, finally, made Dean turn to look over at Sam and see his reaction. He watched as Sam half-turned in the seat, head turned towards him but not meeting his gaze just yet. His brows were drawn so tightly together they looked like one unit, and his eyes flicked back and forth across the dashboard, thinking. He watched as Sam drew a deep breath, exhaled, then looked up at Dean, concern radiating from every line of his face.
“Dean, what exactly brought this on? Because it’s really sounding like you, you made some kind of deal, which I don’t know how you managed since we only just defeated God –”
“I didn’t make any deal! What, I can’t just tell you how I feel?”
“You never have before. Only when one of us is about to die.”
And that hurt like a kick to the chest, like a knife to the heart, because Sam wasn’t wrong, not really. They’d never put it out on the table like that, unless they knew they weren’t going to be around to deal with the fallout.
And for what? So that the other wouldn’t call them a girl? They knew so many badass ladies, hunters and witches and just about anything else who were so fucking strong – not to mention that thinking that being emotional was both feminine and weak was something that they had outgrown. So that they wouldn’t call them gay? That ship had sailed a long time ago. So that they wouldn’t be vulnerable? God knows they’d both broken the world for each other, unleashed awesomely powerful beings because they couldn’t bear losing each other, it’s not as if saying it out loud would somehow make that worse.
Happiness isn't in the having, it's in just being. It's in just saying it.
A hand clapped down on his shoulder, jolting Dean from his thoughts. His eyes refocused from where they had been staring into the middle distance. Sam’s expression had gone from concerned to almost scared.
“Dean, you’re kind of freaking me out right now.” Sam’s voice was tight as he failed pretty spectacularly at hiding just how freaked out he was. He paused, squinting at Dean. “Are- are you crying?”
Dean’s eyes slid away from Sam’s face and went back to staring into space. Almost in a fugue state he brought a hand up to his cheek, stared at it in surprise and confusion when it came away wet. He was still staring at it when Sam sighed, sounding tired and resigned and nervous all at once.
“What brought this on?”
Somehow, Sam was still so patient and compassionate, even while Dean was having a bit of a breakdown. Honestly, he was a little surprised it took this long to happen, considering the events of the last couple of weeks. He swallowed down the tears and the lump in his throat, tried to take a couple of deep breaths to steady himself but they still came wobbly.
“It was, uh – it was something that Cas said.” And why, after all of that, why was it that he still struggled to speak? Why was it that the words that flowed so easily before now got lodged somewhere between his heart and his throat?
“Are you gonna tell me what happened? What actually happened,” Sam said, a hand raised to cut Dean off as he tried to interject, “I know you told us that Cas summoned the Empty to stop Billie and it took him too, but…” He paused, swallowed. “You haven’t been okay since then. And I know he was your best friend, but you watched him die in front of you, then you were clearly holding back from telling me and Jack everything, you were bargaining with Chuck to bring him back, and then, just, nothing. Acted like nothing happened.”
Dean nodded, just a little bob of the head. “Yeah, I know.” He swallowed again – and if the damn lump could just stay out of his throat for a while, that’d be great – and tried to figure out how to explain everything to Sam, considering he wasn’t even sure he had all of the information himself.
“Cas… when Jack died, last year, Cas made a deal with the Empty. Traded his life for Jack’s. The Empty accepted, but instead of killing him then, said that it’d come for him when he ‘experienced a moment of true happiness’.” Another deep breath to steady himself. “He used that to summon the Empty when Billie was hunting us down, used it to get it to take her too.
“He… he told me that the one thing he wanted, the one thing that would make him happy, was something he couldn’t have. Said, uh, said a lot of stuff about me, about how all the shit I think about myself is wrong, about how I always did what I did for – for love, how I changed him, made him care about the world and people and everything.”
Even though they weren’t moving, Dean was still insanely glad Sam was behind the wheel at that moment, while he stared down at his lap with a death grip around the empty cardboard coffee cup to keep his hands from shaking. This time, he was aware of his tears as they slipped down his cheeks as he remembered the last time Cas spoke to him.
“He told me he loved me. He – he told me he loved me, and I, I had no idea about any of that. I didn’t know he felt that way, I didn’t know he could feel that way, and I just,” he swallowed roughly, fighting through the tears, “I don’t want to leave anything unsaid anymore. I don’t want to just, treat anything as a given, not after that.”
He felt Sam’s hand move from his left shoulder – and he could almost feel Cas’ handprint there, seared into his skin and painted in blood – to wrap around to his other shoulder. In between breaths he was crushed into a hug by his giant of a brother, and that’s all that it took to ruin any semblance of control he still had. His own arms came up to wrap around Sam in return, and he sobbed, heartbroken and sick with grief.
Dean wasn’t sure how long they sat there, how long his little brother, who he was always supposed to protect and keep safe from pain and hate and darkness watched him crumble. It could have been minutes or it could have been hours. However long it was, it was enough for his tears to dry up, for his sobs to turn to painful hiccoughs. He had fallen quiet, but Sam didn’t pull away, so he didn’t either.
“Hey Sammy?” His voice was muffled into Sam’s shoulder.
“I love you. I know I’ve only said it, like, once,” when he was planning on dying, when Sam was doing everything in his power to keep him from dying, “but I mean it. I don’t want you ever thinking that I don’t.”
He felt Sam’s shoulders shake, heard a shaky, wet laugh from above him.
“I love you too, Dean.”
Dean managed a weak chuckle and slowly pulled away. He scrubbed at his face, trying to hide any remnants of his tears. He knew the effort was futile; he still felt the tightness in his throat, the soreness in his eyes. He smacked Sam on the shoulder gently and waved his hand towards the wheel.
“C’mon, we’ve still got another fourteen hours ‘til home, and we’ve wasted enough time on my sorry ass.”
“Are you sure?” Sam asked, already sliding back across the bench to sit behind the wheel again. “You don’t want to have another chick-flick moment?”
“Shuddup,” Dean groaned and shoved Sam in the shoulder; he was grinning, though, and even though he felt drained from all the crying, he also felt lighter than he had in years. Sam just laughed, uproariously, and a moment later the Impala’s engine rumbled to life once more.
They stopped for lunch in Indianapolis, after which Dean demanded to be back behind the wheel. The Impala soared down I-72, the music was turned back up to ear-bleeding levels, and Sam was texting furiously in the passenger side.
Dean tipped his head back and gave the phone a side-eye, trying to sneak a peek. Of course, given that the two of them had grown up in each other’s back pocket meant that they had a sixth sense for when the other was fucking with them, and Sam tipped his phone towards his chest and turned it off.
Which was fine; it wasn’t like Dean actually needed to see the conversation to know who Sam was talking to.
He fought down a smug grin as Sam’s head snapped up, his eyes wide like a deer in the headlights. His mouth flapped wordlessly for a couple of seconds before he managed to find his voice.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Dean chuckled and shook his head fondly. Even after thirty-seven years and defeating God himself, some things never change.
“Sammy, you’re my brother and I love you, but you’re the worst liar I’ve ever seen,” Dean drawled. Sam spluttered indignantly, trying to make some kind of defense for himself out of the half-formed words falling out of his mouth. Dean decided to put the poor guy out of his misery. “Listen, you can say whatever you want, claim that I don’t know shit, but I do know that I haven’t seen you smile like that in years. Probably over a decade. And I know that no one makes you as happy as she does.”
The inside of the car grew quiet. Dean kept silent; he figured that if Sam wanted to talk about it he would, and if he didn’t, then Dean wouldn’t force him to. After a couple of minutes, he chanced a glance out of the corner of his eye. He saw Sam biting his lip and turning his phone around in his hands, deep in thought.
“I’m being stupid about this, aren’t I?” Sam asked.
“I mean, yeah, probably.” Without even having to take his eyes off the road, Dean dodged out of the way as Sam swiped at his shoulder. He laughed, and laughed even harder when he caught sight of Sam’s bitchface.
Sam sighed and shook his head. “I know I’m overthinking it, but I just… Every time I’ve tried this before, it’s ended bad. Whoever I’m with ends up dead, or evil, or-or both, and I just.” He cut himself off and took a deep breath. “I know she can handle herself, but I don’t know if I can handle all of –” he waved his hand vaguely through the air – “this again. I’ve already lost her – twice – and I’m. I’m scared.”
Dean turned Sam’s words over in his head. “Okay. Hear me out for a second, okay? Because I get what you’re saying, but just – consider the fact that Chuck? Is gone. He doesn’t control anything anymore. Everyone we’ve lost, everyone you’ve lost, was because of him, directly or otherwise.”
“You don’t know that.”
“No, I don’t,” Dean acknowledged with a tip of his head, “not for sure. But with him and pretty much every other massive cosmic force out of the picture, it can’t possibly be worse than any of the previous times, can it? You’ve found someone who makes you happy, who gets the life we live, and who, might I add, is a total badass.” He heard Sam laugh, just a slight chuckle and a fond grin from the corner of his eye, and took a moment to savour that before continuing. “Do you really want to pass that up?
“’Cause from where I’m sitting, there’s only two things I can think of that are holding you back: one, you don’t want to jump in and be all cutesy and saccharine and romantic with Eileen, ‘cause you feel like you’d be rubbing it in now that I’ve lost Cas.” It was still a little bizarre how easy it was to say that, how simple it was to put to words what had been between them for so long that neither of them had dared to acknowledge. He saw Sam shuffle awkwardly in his seat as he spoke, caught red-handed. “And I appreciate it, but you’re also a dumbass. Don’t make yourself miserable just because I’m … not at my happiest.”
Dean ignored Sam’s truly unimpressed look at the obvious lie and barrelled forward. “And two, is that you don’t think she feels the same way. Because Chuck was manipulating her, manipulating the whole situation you two were in, so you’re worried that even though you want to be with her, she doesn’t actually reciprocate, and that she’s still messed up from Chuck using her. And my answer to that is, the only way to know is if you ask her.”
Dean had expected a couple of different possible reactions from Sam; silence, continuing to stubbornly argue with him, maybe crying. He certainly hadn’t expected an incredulous laugh to bubble up from the passenger side. He shot him a confused look.
Sam shook his head, grinning. He held up his phone – not so that Dean could read it, necessarily, but more to indicate that Eileen had still been talking at the same time that Dean had.
“Turns out you two think a lot alike,” Sam said, a little dazed.
Dean eased off onto the shoulder to take a closer look at the most recent messages Eileen had sent.
I appreciate the concern, but I’m a big girl. I can handle myself. 💪
You said Chuck’s been gone for a couple of weeks now?
If that’s the case, then I know how I feel.
Also, where the hell are you guys? I’m outside the Bunker but no one’s answering the door.
Did you up and go on a hunt without me??? 😤
Dean tipped his head back and cackled. Sam snatched his phone back out of his grasp and actually succeeded in punching him in the shoulder this time. Dean was still grinning as he pulled the Impala back onto the road and revved the gas.
“Better let her know we’re on our way. We’ve still got –” he glanced at his watch, “– another nine hours to go before we reach Lebanon.”
Eight and a half hours later, the Impala trundled along the path leading to the Bunker’s garage. Up by the doors was Eileen’s bright red Plymouth Valiant, with Eileen herself leaning up against the driver side door. She looked up as the Impala’s headlights washed over her and the surrounding area. Even from there, Dean could see her smile.
He pulled the Impala up to the garage doors and put her in park, her engine reduced to a low rumble as she idled. He and Sam got out; he could have gone to unlock the door right away, but he kind of wanted to see how this was going to play out. He raised a hand in a wave and leaned against the front of his Baby.
“Hey Eileen,” he called.
“Hi Dean,” she said back, her attention only on him for a fraction of a second before turning to face his brother. “Sam.”
Sam walked slowly towards her and stopped, in the No Man’s Land halfway between their cars.
“Eileen.” Even from his vantage point Dean could hear Sam audibly swallow down his nerves. “It’s good to see you,” he said, and brought his right hand up to trace a circle on his chest. His hand came up to his face, with his index and middle fingers in a V-shape; he touched his middle finger to the corner of his eye, then turned his wrist to point at Eileen.
Eileen’s smile got somehow even wider, and she pushed herself up off of her car and marched towards Sam. As she walked, she spoke to him.
“By the way, Sam?”
She stopped in front of him.
“I know this is real.”
With that, she brought both of her hands to the sides of his face, stood up on her tip-toes, and kissed him, deep and sure. Dean couldn’t help the smile that spread across his face as he watched them, watched Sam practically melt into her arms. After a long moment, they separated but stayed close to one another. Another long moment of silence, then Sam cleared his throat awkwardly.
“Uh, right, you probably wanna get inside, huh?” He did some weird little move to spin around her and fished the garage keys out of his pocket. “I’ll just go, uh, go open things up.” He half-walked and half-ran over to the doors; even in the darkness of the middle of the night, Dean could tell his face was bright red. He grinned, and saw a matching expression on Eileen’s face.
He eased himself up off of the Impala and walked up to Eileen. He gently put a hand on her shoulder to draw her attention to him. She turned to face him with a questioning look on her face.
Dean brought his right hand up, placed his fingertips on top of his chin, then brought his hand down to gesture to her.
Eileen smiled again, her expression achingly fond. She placed her hand on his upper arm, not quite on his shoulder.
“Sam told me what happened. We’ll get him back.”
He could hardly argue with that kind of confidence. And after seeing her and Sam together, Dean’s heart ached. He wanted that kind of happiness for himself, but just as much, he wanted it for Cas.
“Yeah, we will.”